Dixon and Holton back at work, under shadow of indictments

Members of the news media removed from lunch meeting of City Council, mayor

January 13, 2009|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

The City Council and Mayor Sheila Dixon returned to business yesterday, but the reverberations from last week's indictments of the mayor and Councilwoman Helen L. Holton contributed to an uneasy tone.

Holton concluded last night's council meeting by reading a statement in her own defense, saying she's "done nothing wrong."

"The indictment filed against me is nothing more than a series of alleged events cobbled together," Holton said. "We will have our day in court, and I'm confident that when we do we will demonstrate that the charges are meritless."

Asked to expand on her comments as she walked out of the chambers, she said, "No, I've said it all."

Earlier in the day, at a council lunch meeting, Dixon's staff removed all print and television photographers from the room.

"As it is our discretion to do so, we can decide if we want cameras or not," Dixon spokesman Ian Brennan said while instructing a Baltimore Sun photographer to leave the meeting. Cameramen from three television stations and a Daily Record photographer were also removed.

Dixon faces charges of theft, perjury, fraud and misuse of office. Holton is charged with bribery, perjury and malfeasance.

Yesterday's agenda was designed to showcase three major administration initiatives: a legal push to address foreclosures, an overhaul of the garbage pickup routes that could reduce trash pickup to once a week and a briefing on a new land bank to buy up vacant houses.

While Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano pledged that the proposed land bank would be "open and transparent," Brennan and Chief of Staff Demaune Millard tossed the photographers out of the room.

Dixon spoke frequently during the meeting, addressing concerns about proposed trash collection changes. Holton also participated.

Dixon's staff allowed photographers to return after about 40 minutes.

George Nilson, the city's attorney, said afterward that he's researching whether the city can bar photographers from open meetings. "As a general proposition, I know that entities that run open meetings have the right to reasonable regulations of controls," he said.

The lunch meeting is held every week that the City Council meets. Members discuss items on the agenda over a catered meal that is provided by either the mayor's office or the City Council president's office. Yesterday's menu included salmon cakes, green salad, strawberries, macaroni and cheese and chocolate cake. It was Dixon's turn to host.

Baltimore Sun photographer Algerina Perna contributed to this article.

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